Category Archives: Writing

Avara Rising: A Story of Beginnings

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Eleanor’s hands trembled slightly as she flicked the end of her cigarette on the edge of the porcelain ashtray. Her other hand nervously clutched the locket around her neck. Ashes from her cigarette fell from the overflowing ashtray onto the expensive table. Her eyes followed mine as I watched the ashes fall. She laughed nervously and waved dismissively at them. “No one knows I smoke. It’s the same brand my mother once smoked. There’s a lot people don’t know. I think you know that now, don’t you?”

We were both dancing around the central question of her life: how did she survive and flourish in the midst of such chaos. My editor wanted me to lob softball questions for the 6000-word piece I had been assigned. To my surprise, I had immediately felt a kinship with Eleanor. Her features reminded me of princesses from the Disney stories of my childhood. I wanted nothing more than to simply sit and talk to her for a lifetime of minutes. Her celebrity status seemed to fit awkwardly on her.

I’d followed her career for the last fifteen years and watched all of her movies. When my editor initially asked me to work on a special story about Eleanor, I had to conceal my enthusiasm. Seeing her first movie evoked something inquisitive in me. I noticed that Eleanor had a small diagonal scar on her neck, below her left ear. Later, I heard her tell an interviewer that the scar was a reminder of her childhood. When she said the words, I watched almost imperceptible clouds pass over her face. I recognized those clouds of trauma. Like me, she had survived a violent childhood, one seemingly hidden from her public life.

On a whim, I turned off the digital recorder on the table in front of me.

Pushing aside my misgivings, I laid a photo on the table. I heard an audible gasp as Eleanor took in the photo. I looked to her face and noted that her expression retreated into itself. I knew the look well from my countless interviews. The photo had pushed her to retreat far past her public veneer. Eleanor was once again the wistful girl in the photo. I wasn’t sure if she’d seen the photo in the 50 years since it was taken.

Eleanor looked up at me, locking my gaze. Tears formed in her eyes as she attempted to blink them into submission.

“So, you know? That day and my story?” Her voice trailed off in a sigh. “Where did you get the photo?”

I sat quietly, out of respect. I nodded. “Yes,” I said, needlessly. “One of the children of your neighbor had a box of keepsakes. I found it there. Finding things and people is what I do. It’s unquestionably you in the photo.”

Both of Eleanor’s hands reached for her locket as the tears poured from her eyes. I could see that her white blouse caught the droplets as they rolled down her wrinkled face. Strangely, she said, “It’s almost me, that’s true.”

“Can I see the picture, Eleanor?” I whispered. “The one inside the locket? I’ve noticed you wear the locket anytime you’re not working.”

She shook her head, a little violently.

I waited.

After a minute, Eleanor reached behind her head and fumbled with the clasp of her locket. She managed to unclasp it and pulled the gold necklace away.

She gracefully piled the necklace on the table near the ashtray, waiting. I noticed that her hand returned briefly and touched the small scar there.

I reached over and touched the locket. I lifted it and brought it closer to my gaze and opened it. Inside, I discovered the face of a beautiful, smiling little girl, one who shared the features of young Eleanor.

“Her name was Avara, a name my mother saw on a tin of cooking oil. She was my twin. As you may have guessed, she left me on the day that picture was taken.” She pointed to the picture of young Eleanor that I had placed face up on the table. “The other picture is of my maternal grandmother.”

“Tell me more, Eleanor, in any way you can express it.” I had forgotten all professional pretense at this point.

Eleanor adopted the faraway look once more as she began to speak:

“It was the early 1980s. My mother had found herself in a life she’d never have imagined, one defined by the birth of two twin girls she hadn’t planned. She shared the lives of these two girls with the most unlikely of husbands, one unlike any she had imagined. She was born in a very small town on the fringes of the state. He had courted her with the most gentlemanly manners. Once she was pregnant, my mother had to accompany my father to the place we called home, away from everything and everyone she’d known. He ruled their lives with a range of abuse. He had studied human psychology through the prism of violence and artfully applied its domesticating techniques with curled fists and cloistered shouts. Day after day of fierce application resulted in my mother surrendering all of her abilities to the whims of this man dedicated to anger.

Each time my mother attempted to put life in its proper place, her husband would remind her of her diminished value. The taste and stain of blood served as a reminder that escape was an illusion. As her twin girls aged, she noted that her husband realized that no greater bargaining chip or amulet of fear existed.

It was on one of my father’s good days that he gave me the scar. My mother was outside talking to one of the neighbors who needed someone to watch his two kids on Saturday. My father overheard voices and exited our trailer. Without taking a moment to listen, he grabbed my mother by the neck and hauled her inside the trailer. He told the neighbor, “Mind your own g-damned business, Robert!” Once inside, he had us all sit on the couch in the tiny living room. Once his rant started, his jealous words became louder and more incoherent. He grabbed one of the four framed pictures on the paneled wall to break it. My mom raised her hand to ask him to please stop. He threw the frame with as much force as he could manage. It flew sideways and shattered on the side of my face. A piece of the glass stuck in my throat. Blood went everywhere. Even as I thought I might die, I welcomed it. My mother was forbidden to take me anywhere to be treated. She used a decorative towel to stop the blood until my father fell asleep in his recliner. Another neighbor, Sheila, put three stitches in my neck using a sewing needle.

For the day in question, my mother awoke on Easter with the idea that if Jesus could sacrifice himself to save mankind, she could at least do something to save her girls. I’m not sure what convinced her that particular day was the day, so to speak. Nevertheless, she rose early enough to use the eggs from the fridge to make colored Easter eggs for her precious girls. She ignored the possibility that her husband might exact his vengeance upon her for wasting the eggs. She carefully placed each dyed eggs back in the egg carton. Before anyone awoke, she crept around the perimeter of the trailer to hide the eggs where her two daughters could find them. No one else was outside that morning. Most of her neighbors had burned the midnight oil. Saturday night was the one night they could all forget their mundane, repetitive lives for the week.

When everyone woke up, my mother dodged the verbal barbs of her husband as she coaxed him to drink his coffee and eat biscuits and sausage. He didn’t seem to notice the absence of eggs on his cracked plate.

While he begrudgingly ate his breakfast, my mother helped us get dressed in our dresses and brushed our hair. We assumed we were dressing to wait for the church bus that made its way around the trailer park each Sunday morning.

“Let’s go outside, girls, and find the Easter eggs!”

My mother camouflaged the fright in her voice. No one except her knew that either she or her husband would not survive the day. She hoped in her secret heart that Jesus and his message of forgiveness would absolve of her of the harsh necessity of that day’s choices. Only she knew that her husband’s pistol, the one he’d held against her head several times, would finally help her.

Avara and I stepped carefully down the old iron and wood-plank steps onto the sparse grass surrounding the trailer. I held the empty egg carton and Avara clutched the single basket we owned. Both of us were dressed in our finest summer church dresses.

As I began to gather the eggs, my mother took a picture of me as I searched the ground with my eyes. She was proud of the camera, even though it was used.  My mother took pictures as if they were made of gold.

Immediately after she snapped the picture, the back door of the trailer flew open. There were no steps there. Anyone wanting to exit had to double back to the front or simply jump the three feet to the ground.

My father chose the second option. His anger propelled him. He jumped the distance without hesitating. He balanced the pistol in his right hand as he landed. Somehow, he found it under my mother’s clothes in the dresser where she’d hid it last night. How he had come to the conclusion that his wife was planning something nefarious is still a mystery. Avara came up behind me as I looked up. My father lifted the pistol to fire it at my mother. Instead, the bullet hit my precious Avara and killed her instantly. My mother screamed in agony and anger and hurled herself at my father. They struggled for a few moments. I think my father was shocked to find himself needing to defend himself against his wife. That hadn’t happened since the second time he had beaten her. My mom seemed to have found new strength as she fought him. Moments later, another shot reverberated between the row of trailers. Since it was a Sunday morning, the deafening roar once again filled the air. My mother froze in shock as my father’s face shattered and a bullet passed from under his chin through the top of his head. He fell to the ground. My mother laughed, a high-pitched and untethered scream of laughter.

My mother grabbed me and pulled me close. She slumped against the underskirt of the trailer, next to Avara. I don’t know how long we sat there. We both watched as my father gurgled blood, trying to speak. Finally, he felt still and silent. At some point, my mother had taken off her locket and put it in my hand. After a long minute, a curious neighbor poked his head around the trailer’s edge to find us. We heard a shout, followed later by more shouts. Much later, a police car slowly pulled up over the curb with its lights flashing. I remember that it didn’t arrive in a hurry. I think the officer knew that being in a hurry in our neighborhood was a waste. The police had come by several times in the last year. They’d note the broken furniture, the beer cans, the bloody faces, said a few words, and depart. It was a story all too common in the South. Even on the night my mother had the courage to tell one of the officers, “Please don’t leave me with him,” the officer took my father aside and asked him to take it easy.

I don’t remember looking at my dear sister. I recall a neighbor picking me up like a doll and talking to me in a low voice. I saw Avara’s Easter basket on the ground, holding four or five dyed eggs. My mother was taken away in a patrol car. Though she was defending herself when she killed my father, the police decided that because she admitted she was planning to kill him, it wasn’t self-defense. I lived the rest of my childhood with my neighbors. That’s how it came to pass that my mother spent the rest of her short life in prison for murder. She convinced herself that prison was appropriate for staying too long within the reach of her violent husband. She missed Avara’s funeral. I never saw her again after the police shoved her in the back of the patrol car.”

Eleanor finished talking and simply sat in her chair. Her regal features seemed to be resigned to the sadness that the story held for her. “I’ve never spoken the names of my parents since that day, either. My mother’s name was Kimber and my father was named Gerald. I took the last name of the kind neighbors who raised me as their own. My real last name was Holloway.”

She leaned in and whispered to me. “Gabriel, do you know the real secret, the one that no one alive knows?” She hesitated.

I couldn’t believe that she held more secrets. It felt like she was in a confessional and I was her confessor. I nodded.

“That day? It wasn’t Avara who was killed. It was Eleanor. When my neighbor pulled me away, I told him that my name was Eleanor, my dear sister’s name. I don’t know why I blurted out my sister’s name. I’ve lived my entire life and career using her name. I’m Avara. I think the only reason I survived was by adopting her name and promising that I’d rise above the thing that killed her.” Once again, tears rolled down her face.

I stood up and walked around the table. Eleanor didn’t resist as I pulled her close and we both cried until time slowed. I knew that Eleanor, or Avara, was transported back to the trailer park all those years ago. In some ways, despite people not knowing it, Eleanor had spent a great deal of her life buried in the past.

Three weeks later, my editor demanded the 6000-word piece for the magazine. Instead, I handed him a full draft of the book that Eleanor had authorized: “Avara Rising.” She had decided to finally come out to the world and reveal the story of the crucible which had formed her. Her sister’s name had found fame in the world. It was time for the other little girl to find her real voice and speak to the world. Like her mother, she’d find the courage to plant her feet and insist that the reckoning commence.

It all started with a picture, an oath given freely by a mother, and a young life consumed by violence. Gabriel could only hope that the little girl picking up her Easter eggs was still frolicking in a nondescript yard somewhere, with her sister laughing joyfully behind her.

Amen, Avara. Godspeed, Eleanor.

 

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Obituary: Apostrophe

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Obituary

Today marked the passing of the dubious Apostrophe, whose real named is spelled ‘. The word “Apostrophe” is Greek, meaning “…the act of turning away…” It was born sometime in the 1500s. Shakespeare was a close friend of Apostrophe, employing him haphazardly and without regard to decorum. Through the centuries, writers and the general public have argued relentlessly over the usage of Apostrophe. Some have foolishly attempted to speak on behalf of Apostrophe; all are posers and speaking on his behalf without authority. No one truly understood Apostrophe or his real purpose.

The Apostrophe suffered a slow and agonizing death, one literally punctuated by debates about its viability. Apostrophonies (ardent admirers of Apostrophe) wept in silence, unsure if theyll be able to communicate without their beloved obsolete claw mark. Plans are being made to address whether we will or wont be able to understand written English after its passing. Its unclear what the cause of death was for the misunderstood punctuation mark, although an autopsy points to a complete lack of a reason to continue living as the most likely culprit.

We will still be able to determine possessive forms in writing, even in Apostrohpes absence. We have also surrendered any intention of honoring the ridiculous use of an apostrophe for so-called awkward plurals and the bane of all sane people, the plural possessive.

If youre not sure what was intended when reading, simply read it aloud to immediately clear up any confusion on the matter. The spoken word and Apostrophe have never needed one another.

In observance of the death of the Apostrophe, its remains will be cremated and its ashes scattered in the mouths of angry grammarians everywhere.

A eulogy will be provided by Apostrophes terminally ill cousins, Colon and Semicolon. It isnt clear whether Colon will be able to speak without several lengthy pauses.

The funeral is at 11 oclock on Wednesday.

This Language Is Yours To Use As You Wish

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I’ve had people ask me what makes you think you’re a grammarian?
My simple answer: “…the same thing that makes all other self-proclaimed grammarians.” Who makes dictionaries? What makes a ‘word?’ While I’m no expert on English, I’m a lover of words in multiple languages – and certainly, someone who spends an extraordinary amount of time with words dancing in delight inside my head. They are not my enemy, even when I bend them in uncertain ways.

My only enemy in language is the obtuse and illogical insistence that our language has ever reached a finished state. English is a mutt of a language and we are its barking dogs. We all share in its ownership and therefore bear some ability to shape it.

It all obfuscates the simple truth that our language does not have a governing body. Everything you know about the certainty and spectacle of language is based on the falsehood of having an overriding authority that dictates correctness. No such thing exists. Even if it did we would most likely ignore it. Usage determines correctness no matter how much you cluck about it or violently disagree. It is always been that way and it always will. The language we use today will not be the same as that used in 100 years. Correctness will adjust to the wear-and-tear of our assault on it.

I’ve had many people ask me about my status as an authority on language. My authority is the same as anyone else, except that I had an epiphany. I listened as 4 English experts disagreed on a basic idea regarding a simple expression, one which other languages do entirely differently. At the end of the table, another lover of language leaned in and asked those arguing, “But was the meaning perfectly clear in its expression?” The experts were flummoxed. “It seems to me that you’re confusing objective with process.”

The entire framework is an illusion. That many people read my derision of the self-proclaimed authorities on language and nod their heads in agreement with me doesn’t merely demonstrate that a lot of people hate the stupidity and structure of our language. It’s also because they recognize the truth of my message. And the same way that people realized they don’t need an intercessory to engage with their creator, we also aren’t in need of an external authority for language correctness. It’s our fault that we’ve allowed our written language to be so ridiculously arcane and complex. We can have deep universal and human conversations, even technical ones, without any need for spelling or punctuation – the customary nonsense that is demanded of us when we put pen-to-paper. The snobbery of grammar nerds is appalling precisely because they don’t recognize their own ignorance even as they protest and trumpet that they alone know the correct usage.

Language, spelling, syntax. All these things are evolving and moving targets, much like the wrinkled brow of the self-avowed expert on language.

Language is a living animal. Anything so fundamental to human expression doesn’t need years of study or advanced comprehension of ridiculously complex rules riddled with imaginary exceptions. It needs sanity. Almost all of our language is used informally and verbally.

While it’s amusing to some to feel versed on the English language, the greater truth is that our set of rules for its usage bear no resemblance to the purpose of language: communication and expression. We are all equally and preposterously ignorant for allowing language to be a burden on its users. Many see “Your welcome” and see it as a sign of ignorance. I do as well, except the ignorance is in the eye of the accuser. Those who use “your” instead of the contraction “you’re” are going to win the battle. You just don’t know it.

Likewise, I empower anyone reading this to stop heeding the grammarians as he or she attempts to correct you. It’s perfectly fine to define usage as ‘purist,’ because no one follows all the rules and most of us routinely butcher most of them without consequence.

My agony is in recognition of the hypocrisy on the part of my fellow humans. We’re all wrong – and always have been.

We own the language. All of us, even if it curls your eyebrows to understand.

The Joy of Lexicography – TED

 

What Makes a Word ‘Real’ – TED

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee (A book)

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We all vividly recall colorful memories of carnivals, ocean beaches, or sunlit birthday parties. Many of us have an unseen bond with a few select books, ones so rich and engrossing that we often mourn a little with their completion. The memory of a great book fills our minds with joy as easily as childhood happiness.

Often, a first-time author will pour his or her soul and wit into a book. Without recognition, these books can fade, despite their hidden potential to ignite people’s minds. Those which pluck at our heartstrings and nostalgic memories deserve a chance to flourish and reach more people.

If you’ve yet to hear of “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” by Talya Tate Boerner, I envy you. Your first time reading this treasure is ahead of you. The prose flows like melting ice cream on the back of your hand and the people and places in the book walk through your mind with a vividness that’s difficult to master as a writer. Talya’s mastery of language is equal to Pat Conroy, though her words are more sparse and evocative.

I heard of the book through social media. An avid reader I know spoke highly of it. Since I hadn’t heard of it, at least not that I remembered, I had a tinge of doubt. Buying it on Amazon was one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding a book. Since then, I’ve given the book to several people, all of whom have nothing except warm praise for it. Each book has passed from the original owner to someone else, a secondhand gift of true love for those who might receive it.

For those who might have grown up in eastern Arkansas or in some other rural community, you’ll find yourself back in those tilled fields, with your hands touching the rough edges of a cotton plant or your bare feet carefully treading on the boards of a long front porch. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear the muffled bang of a screen door slamming shut in the summer as someone you love hollers at you for doing it – for the thousandth time.

“The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” is a love story for a young girl’s childhood. It will make you stand up and look out on your current world and feel like we might have taken a curved path as we grew up and turned away from simple connections. The book stunningly hides a story line of acceptance and redemption inside, one between a stubborn dad and daughter; many of us will find ourselves comparing ourselves to one or the other.

My only wish is that Talya Tate Boerner would write a dozen more such books. In a world filled with books equal to her first, most of us could find happiness in their pages. It is a book like hers which whispers to me long after I’ve finished reading it.

For anyone with a love for reading or storytelling, please find a copy of this book. I’m sure that you will not regret the time you spend inside its world.

Love, X

Endergong and Exergong (New Words)

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I’m creating two new words for the English language today.

Are they necessary? No, but neither is “philtrum,” which is the line or cleft between your nose and upper lip. (To the tubercle of the upper lip, to be ridiculously obtuse and exact.)

Luckily for me, the litmus test for word inclusion in our shared collective English language is that there isn’t one. Yes, usage determines inclusion, but a word is a word the second that any meaning is attached to it, even if it doesn’t thrive.¬† Even “callipygian,” which is an artful way of describing buttocks that won’t get you punched in the epiglottis.

As Douglas Adams once paraphrased, it’s this kind of fact that generally pisses people off.

An endergonic reaction is one in which energy is absorbed and an exergonic reaction is one which results in energy released.

My two new words are these: ‘endergong’ and ‘exergong.’ Words which terminate in “gong” are gorgeous words. Perhaps if the movie had been titled “Gong With The Wind,” it might have fared even better with the general public. We’ll never know. And no, we frankly don’t give a damn.

An ‘endergong’ is someone who requires or takes in more energy than he or she adds to the social fabric.

An ‘exergong’ is someone who adds more to the social fabric than he or she consumes.

The implication is that exergong is a more positive word, characterizing positivity, freedom, and openness. You feel happier with exergongs surrounding you.

An endergong is someone who sulks at the table, complaining about everyone and everything, even the free beer you just handed him or her.

You’re welcome.

P.S. If you don’t like the words, please send a postcard to the American Society For Language, which is a non-existent organization that won’t read whatever it is you have to say about it.

Chillax, It’s Totes English For All Of Us

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It’s not about whether you accept a word as standard usage or not; it’s that our shared language ignores your opinion. That semicolon that I just used? Obsolete. Or out-dated, if you prefer more unwieldy adjectives. (Much like the letter ‘c’ in ‘adjective.’)

Words need no invitation. They are born from our careless lips and either languish or flourish. It’s just as futile as arguing whether a tulip is more beautiful than a dandelion. (The correct answer is undoubtedly ‘dandelion,’ though, for the record.) English is coldly practical about your derision of its children. It also allows many of its creations to wither without a second glance. Language is neither math nor codified science and there is no universal standard which determines which children live under its roof. Not to hound the point, but even the word ‘dog’ wasn’t originally our word. It took a long time for it to replace ‘hound.’ Yet, we now have both words, with ‘dog’ being top-dog. (And 10 other ones, for good measure, ones into which you can stick your canines.) Irregular verb conjugations dissolve over time, much like our ability to have an expansive view of subjective subjects. Being difficult largely results in a short trip to the dustbin. Oddly enough, though, English has a wordlist longer than any other language. We steal words like pieces of candy from grandma’s purse.

In the 70+ years you’ll use our language, massive change will creep into it. You can resist or embrace it. It’s why we no longer speak Latin and that even basic spelling fills a chasm between us and our mother tongue in England. You’re standing in a river as it flows.

A better use of your time, though, would be to learn at least one other language. It will help to rupture the nonsensical insistence that ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ is anything except a label. It’s hard for me to understand how someone who hasn’t mastered more than language can ignore the certainty of expression another language provides. Competing languages express the same thoughts, hopes, and ideas of one’s mother tongue, yet do so under an alien alphabet and syntax. This is the only proof you need that wasting one’s life over semantics in a language is folly. Early English was considered too crude to express abstract concepts. Some speculate that this is still the case. Some of our current users make us wince in pain and beg to have pencils shoved into our ear canals.

It’s fascinating that language is designed first and foremost for communication yet so many fights pour from the incessant evolution of its form and content. The only winnable war where words reside is to yield and abstain from the fight. Just as most people can’t adequately explain the engines in their personal vehicles, most can’t diagram a sentence or correctly detail the preferred syntax of the language they use for their entire lives.

Whether you want to be in the same boat with those who share your language, you’re there nonetheless, all of us with rows in the water, all of us both perpetrator and victim to the infinite nuances and bastardizations of words and expression. You can row backward if you want but it is counterproductive.

Observing harsh criticisms of language’s evolution, I am confounded. The history of our language is one of appropriation, misuse, creation, and abuse. Why then do so many seemingly ignore the tower of linguistic history behind us?

If you loathe words such as bae, bling, hangry, deglobalization, listicle, ginger, humblebrag, infomania, bromance, totes, chillax, binge-watch, meme, staycation, or any of the other hundreds of words taking up residence in our collective lexicon, I can only say that you’re going to have an unpleasant road ahead of you. It’s what we’ve always done. We welcome all comers to our dictionary. Some stand at the doorstep longer than others but usage knocks loudly and those with an upturned nose lose their votes as time and repetition makes way for all manner of poorly-constructed houseguests.

Language belongs to all who use it. You’ll pass on soon enough, leaving your usage in a hazy trail of rules which will not hold up over time. Language is for the living. The greater your resistance, the more likely that your own evolution of expression is now frozen in a fixed place, one which you’ve placed in a tidy box marked ‘Finished.’ Because it is – and you are.

Above It All And Within

 

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Barbara closed her book with resolve, knowing that Pat Conroy’s love of the land which defined him would welcome her once again as soon as she opened the pages. She leaned over to kiss her husband David, even as he paused to remove himself from the world of John Irving. “I’ll be back in a minute, my Lowenstein,” she whispered. He nodded and peered at her over the rim of his ridiculous reading glasses.

She cast aside the bedspread and climbed from the bed. Though the room was a historical catalog of the shared lives of her, her husband, and daughter Elizabeth, Barbara no longer needed to cast a glance at the myriad collection of photos to remember each individual memory. Most of her days filled with recollections of the life they shared before Elizabeth departed. Nineteen eighty-five might as well have been another life. In many ways, it was.

She walked barefoot from the room and turned left, heading toward the darkened room which comprised the epicenter of her life and once belonged to her daughter. She counted the eight paces to the window and pulled it open. The warm breeze enveloped her as she exited to the roof. Tonight, she could smell the honeysuckle floating on the air. A night like tonight was the last one Elizabeth had enjoyed, slightly more than one-third of a century ago.

Barbara knew that on so many previous nights, her daughter Elizabeth had emerged from the same window to smoke. Unlike her daughter, though, Barbara limited herself to a solitary cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a puff in her life until her daughter had died. Since that night, she hadn’t missed a single night without smoking. Rituals demand adherents.

In the event of rain, Barbara would smoke under the overhang of the utility shed, just like Elizabeth. As the drops fell, they reminded her of the minutes her daughter failed to enjoy. Thousands of droplets, accumulating at her feet. At times, she imagined that she could feel each one as it fell.

David knew better than to question his wife. Contemplation requires tranquility, if not silence. Although he would never admit it, he loved his wife more for her dedication to the ritual of remembrance than almost any other thing. He couldn’t bring himself to join her on the roof, even as his absence sometimes drove a wedge between them. 33 years had failed to convince him otherwise.

Barbara measured her inhalations as she watched her quiet neighbors. If anyone now saw the glowing tip of her lit cigarette high on the roof, he or she no longer questioned it. Barbara’s loss was intensely private. When she finished the cigarette, she flicked it out into the yard. David didn’t mind. Collecting the butts was part of his ritual, one he did without comment. In his heart, he knew that one day he would give anything to have the chance to pick up after the people who were no longer with him.

Barbara paused on the other side of the roof, one leg draped over the windowsill. Elizabeth was somewhere out there, in a place of unknowing. Barbara sighed and headed back to her Lowenstein, even as her heart called into the blanket of night.
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Writer’s Block – An Imaginary Foe Leads to Wealth

Once the ad agency of Hodges And Hedge discovered that I never experience writer’s block, even when a heck of a lot of people would rather I did, they gave me a plum freelance assignment. Their usual staff writers were unable to get past the tame subject matter.

Even though I knew nothing about inclement weather safety and tornadoes other than the tried-and-true system of “Avoid It At All Costs,” I got to work.

Last Wednesday, I researched and wrote several pages of draft material. It was filled with data and advice, punctuated by wit. Without a second thought, I submitted it.

Thursday morning, I opened my email to find that the content editor was very unhappy with my work. “It’s not your normal style, X. We appreciate the draft, but we need something we can use, something which captures the essence of tornadic response but stated in a fanciful¬† way.”

Twenty minutes later, I submitted my abridged version.

The State of Vermont’s Department of Tourism bought the piece from Hodges and Hedge for $7,500.

Here it is:

 

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I’m told that it is going to be used all over the midwest.

Is this story true or not? Ask Sarah Sanders.

 

 

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

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NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

weererfff

 

P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’